Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Menu Planning Made Easy!

We've all heard that meal planning saves money, and having a plan for each meal and stocked larders saves time and sanity, right?

But meal planning can be tiresome. Or time consuming, or downright dreadful. After five years of running a home, I've tried many different ways to plan. I've used Pinterest, collected cookbooks, borrowed ideas from other people, carried over meals from my childhood, and tried new recipes. While it is fun to look through recipes (for me anyway) it took a long time to decide on my two week menu. In the end, it got finished, but I have always wished to take some of the time and headache out of the chore. Perhaps you're in a similar boat?

I finally think I have discovered a quick & easy method for making a menu plan and grocery list!

Step One: Print out a free Monthly Meal Planning template 

Monthly Meal Planning Template- Mine is filled in
Blank Colorful Monthly Meal Plan

I created this FREE template to be a half page so it will fit it in a regular binder with room at the bottom for notes, or in a half binder like a Filofax. Mine- pictured above- is a Day Runner I found at Walmart (I love it so much!). I simply folded the page back so I have room to take notes on the back if I want. 

Step Two: Fill in the template

This is the time consuming part- but you only have to do this once (for life if you want)! Simply fill in 35 of your families favorite dinners in the template. Think of this table as a monthly calendar, each row representing a week. By having a fifth week on your menu, you make sure to have enough meals for those months with more weeks and you never repeat a meal in the same month. 

Tip: Take into consideration your family's schedule when planning. For instance, we go to church every Sunday and I put dinner in the slow cooker before we leave, so my entire red column (representing Sundays) are all slow cooker recipes. If you know there is a day each week where you need a quick meal (that's Wednesday for us), make sure 5 of your meal options are those quick & easy meals.

Step Three: Gather all 35 recipes in one place

Now, I love technology, but when I'm in the kitchen making a recipe, I get a little nervous having my smartphone or tablet near boiling water, vegetable peels, and flour covered surfaces. If you're the same way, you may want to write or type all 35 of your recipes and have them together in one spot. Even if you have made the recipe many times before I'd recommend writing down the recipe for two reasons:

1) Fast & Thorough list making: if the ingredients are written down it's quicker to make up your grocery list. More times than I care to admit, I've forgotten one or more ingredients simply because I made my list from memory and forgot to write them down. This ensures that everything makes it on the grocery list!

2) Substitute Chef: I just spent four days laying down because I was so sick I couldn't even sit for ten minutes. It would have helped if I had all the ingredients and the recipes for my menu printed and gathered so that my husband could have made dinner for himself and the kids. Instead, they ate peanut butter sandwiches for four days because my darling hubby had no idea what I had in the pantry (and I couldn't think straight long enough to tell him). Enough said.

Here, I created a simple Word document and typed all of the recipes from my Monthly Menu Plan. Now, all 35 of my meals on in my Day Runner, right after my Monthly Menu Plan. Happy.

Recipes Listed

My recipes are full sheets, so in order to fit them in my half-binder Day Runner I punched holes in the top, then folded them under- just until they touched the rings. This way I can fold the page out and see the whole sheet if necessary.

See- fold out
While I do carry my Day Runner & Menu with me everywhere I go as well as have it nearby at home, it can be helpful to have the week's menu posted somewhere prominent for all to see (anyone else's husband ask you all the time what you are having for dinner?) I've created another fun FREE printable for you for just such a purpose:

This is a lame screenshot from my phone so you can see the layout
You are welcome to print out as many of my FREE printables as you wish for personal use. If you mention them in your blog please link back here, thank you so much!


This is a great sheet to fill out each week (just fill it out, remember, all the hard thinking has been done already) and post on the refrigerator. Every night I check this and look to see if I need to get any items out of the freezer. And every morning I can see if I need to start dinner in the slow cooker. Done and done!

If you've gone through these organizing steps, you may have just cut out several hours per week from menu planning. Now, all you need to do on menu planning day:

1) Find the corresponding week
2) Copy all ingredients (from 35 previously gathered recipes) onto Weekly Menu Plan sheet and your shopping list
3) and shop- you're done!

I've been honing this system for over a month now and I cannot believe how easy this is! I kinda hope that you've all figured this out already and my post is irrelevant and you've been saving yourself from menu planning headaches all this time. But, here it is, just in case this has slipped by someone out there other than me (please tell me I'm not the only one).

I hope this gives you with more time with your family and doing things you enjoy by saving you time each week preparing menus. 

By the way, I love collecting recipes (to swap one out from time to time) so please feel free to leave your favorite in the comments section! 

Bon appetit!